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You gotta love Neil’s honesty. We owe it all to artists to stand up to what they believe in and drive us forward. Without them, we would have nothing.

“Still the searcher
must ride the dark horse
Racing alone in his fright.”

“I’m finding that I have a little bit of trouble with the quality of the sound of music today,” says Neil Young. “I don’t like it. It just makes me angry. Not the quality of the music, but we’re in the 21st century and we have the worst sound that we’ve ever had. It’s worse than in 1978. Where are our geniuses? What happened?”

I can’t agree more.  We need a new format that breathes life into the music industry by improving the quality of the sound that we listen to.   If you are under the age of 22, I will bet that most of you have never really heard a great audio recording.  You don’t even know what I am talking about.

This issue is vital to the future of the music business.  What we have today with the proliferation of ear buds as the primary listening medium and compressed MP3 files is a low res music experience that is the bottom of the barrel, lowest common denominator form of a listening experience there can be.  Really listening to music is simply lost on most people these days, and as a result the art form has lost the majority of its value.

It commonly accepted that crappy sounding music is the norm and people, by and large, have no idea what they are missing.  The MP3 has stripped the emotional value from music today and has reduced it to a commodity.  The audio business has truly been compressed and marginalized and is nearing extinction.  We cannot let that happen to the music business.

As artists, “We can’t control the back end of the donkey, laments Young.  The donkey has two ends, products like Beats and Bose and every little product that comes out for your car, the whole thing – is all about the back end of the donkey.  There is nothing talking about the front end of the donkey, that’s what I’m talking about.  You don’t have to that rich to do this, you just have to be smart…  We are in the low res world, make no mistake that is right where we are…

“I look at the internet as the new radio.  I look at the radio as gone…  People change and do their music, people trade it they do whatever and Apple makes it very possible for you to store stolen or traded songs in the cloud, they opened up the door so that that can happen… its acceptable.  Thats the way it is… Piracy is the new radio, that’s how music gets around, thats the real world for kids, thats the (new) radio… Lets let them really hear it.

“I’m hoping that some people who want the hi-res would have the choice in buying it.  It has to be convenient, people should not associate hi-res with inconvenience.  That’s a myth, we’re living in the 21st century and all of these things are possible.  The technology exists, the internet is fast enough to support it…  If Steve Jobs had lived long enough, he would be eventually have done what I am trying to do.”

Quality.  We need a new format that will deliver better quality sound to drive the business forward.  Period.  Here is a true clarion call for innovation, and something that we all need to pay attention to.   Neil Young cares about music. He is successful enough that he could sit back and ignore the realities of the marketplace today, but instead chooses to push the agenda forward. Awesome. I would not be surprised to hear a new song from Neil about a donkey.  Maybe I can sing backup on it.

See the video with Neil Young and Walt Mossberg from All things D here.

Here is a brief description of some of the technical issues from Thinkdigit.  “The renewed focus on audio quality in some circles has a sense of déjà vu about it. Some of it recalls the 1970s, back when the term “high fidelity” was thrown around to indicate quality stereo recordings. We also saw this go around again at the turn of the millennium with the introduction of SACD and DVD Audio formats, which brought 24-bit fidelity and surround sound to audio mixes, although neither took off at the time.

So what’s going on here? In a word, it’s about data. More data translates to better-sounding audio files—but those files are largely unavailable to most consumers. Granted, to the casual listener, Amazon MP3 and Apple iTunes Store sound pretty good, as they’re encoded as 256Kbps MP3 and AAC files for the most part. Amazon has some MP3 files encoded at variable bit rates, but most of them center around the 224Kbps to 256Kbps range. AAC generally sounds slightly better than MP3 when encoded at the same bit rate, although recent improvements in MP3 encoding algorithms have largely rendered this academic.

Aside from music purchases, 256Kbps is also iTunes’ default encoding rate for when you rip audio CDs in iTunes (although you can change it), and it’s the size iCloud uses to deliver tracks to other PCs or mobile devices on your network if you’re a subscriber. I’m just using Apple products here as an example; Windows Media Player, Winamp, and countless other apps do similar things. Any way you cut it, 256Kbps files sound a lot better than ones encoded at 128Kbps, which is what Apple used years ago before it removed DRM from its iTunes Store tracks. Granted, 256Kbps files take up twice the space as 128Kbps files, but on today’s devices, that usually isn’t a problem, and the improved sound quality is worth it.

The thing is, 256Kbps still isn’t enough. Higher-resolution, uncompressed, 16-bit audio files match the sound you get on an actual CD. 24-bit sound files even sound better; the increased headroom matches the format most artists and mix engineers have been working in over the past decade or so.

Cheap consumer electronics manufacturers abused the phrase “CD-quality” for many years, but in this case it still has meaning. True CD-quality files take up anywhere from three to 10 times as much as space as an MP3 or AAC file, depending on the latter’s bit rate; 24-bit files take up even more space. They come in several formats: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. (FLAC and Apple Lossless contain some data compression but only in a method that doesn’t affect sound quality. FLAC is much more widely supported than Apple Lossless, though.)”

And finally, The Tennessean wrote a great piece on the lure of high fidelity and what some people in Nashville are working on to bring it back.
More to come.  This is a big issue.  Chime in on what you think and how can we move this agenda forward.

Great content attracts attention.

Our friends Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan are Karmin and have found amazing lightning-fast popularity with this cover of Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes “Look At Me Now”.

2.9 million views on YouTube as of a few minutes ago, in less than 7 days. Wow. That’s some velocity.

Nod from Ryan Seacrest adds some juice: http://tinyurl.com/3hypspf

Then appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show today on ABC.

Similar strategy to Pomplamoose. http://tinyurl.com/4yk9nn2

Let’s see how this plays out and what they do with it. The Internet rewards quality with hyper efficient recognition. The Future of Music.

HERE IS AN UPDATE 5/20/11

14.5 Million Views and Counting

The duo have since performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and On Air with Ryan Seacrest, and taken the stage with hip-hop legends The Roots. “It was basically an explosion of awareness that happened for us,” Amy says. “We didn’t see it coming and didn’t really know how to handle it, but we did our best.

They are now being courted by the major labels and publishers. More to come…

This guy is always so over the top, but he delivers the message.

“What happens when the labels stop paying an advance?

You know that’s gonna happen. With such limited revenue from recorded music, no one’s going to pay you a fortune to make it. There’s no incentive. Live Nation might pay you a fortune to TOUR, but who, in their right mind, is going to pay you a few hundred k when the only thing selling is singles? Hell, not one album released this year has yet gone PLATINUM! Do you expect Universal to be ponying up millions of dollars in the future?

Don’t be surprised if the major labels morph into management companies. In a way, they already have. That’s what a 360 deal is. That’s what the manager has ALWAYS had, a share in all revenue streams. You only get paid if there’s success. Are the majors going to follow this paradigm?

Of course, there could be a bidding war, generating large advances, but Live Nation/Ticketmaster is always going to win that one. Until the majors merge with a touring company, they’re fucked, they just don’t have enough to offer, their costs are too high, their margins too thin. If I were a major, I’d be calling Jerry and Arny, maybe even Seth right now. After calling Phil Anschutz, of course. In order to survive, labels have to play in the touring arena.

But the foregoing is all about money. Don’t you realize that’s what the album was about, money? That’s how you got paid, by delivering an album. Of course the public didn’t know this, but this was the game for eons. Sure, the Beatles made a STATEMENT with “Sgt. Pepper”, but Capitol was more interested in the revenue. Selling 33’s was much more profitable than selling 45’s. And the high-priced/low royalty CD was even more of a moneymaker than the LP record. That’s how we got here. Pure greed, not artistry.

If you want to record a full-length statement, be my guest. I see nothing wrong with that. But are you really interested in laying down ten tracks on wax if you’re not going to trigger a payment?

Please don’t be blinded by history. If your goal is to make money, and seemingly everybody e-mailing me is focused on bucks, how are you going to make money in the future? I’ll tell you. The public is your bank. And people don’t pay solely for recorded music, they may not pay for recorded music at all. How are you going to get paid?

By building an audience.

An album’s worth of material usually does not build an audience. A TRACK builds an audience. If you’re a career artist, people will want more tracks. But only if they’re good.

So the focus is no longer on cutting ten songs, but cutting GOOD songs! There’s an unlimited audience for GREAT songs. Still, how do you nurture your audience?

Playing every night in a single town is not going to build heat. You’ve got to go away for a while to increase demand. But you can’t go away for TOO LONG or you’ll be forgotten. Same deal with music. How do you deliver enough to keep people interested, but not too much to overload them?

DON’T tell me how much you love albums. That’s like labels saying no one will ever download music from the Internet. The album is history, you just don’t know it yet. STATEMENTS are not history, but are you really making a statement?

Innovate in the new sphere.

If U2 weren’t getting paid by Universal upon delivery of an album, they’d be better off releasing tracks in fits and starts. You get continuous publicity. AND, the way they just did it didn’t work, the album’s sales are small. Imagine going on Letterman EVERY MONTH, not for a week straight. BUILDING, instead of blowing your wad.

Imagine rewarding a fan who buys all ten tracks over the course of months. Maybe buying all ten delivers a code that allows you to purchase guaranteed good seats at the pre-sale. Maybe there’s a quiz regarding the content that allows people to qualify.

Maybe when you do that commercial endorsement, the reward is someone can go to the company’s Website and download YOUR NEW SONG! The insta-collection of ten tracks is no longer the starting point, rather you dole out your tracks in drips and drabs, making each release a minor marketing event, that keeps people interested, that keeps them going to the show.

If you’re a star, maybe you announce that you’re going to play the new track at the top of every show. And maybe then not again for a YEAR! So you’ve got to download to be familiar, and come if you want to hear it live. Don’t you see? Giving up the album delivers FREEDOM!

No one says a fan can’t create a playlist of ten tracks that he plays ad infinitum. Maybe the fan creates the album, and posts it to your Website, delineating why he picked this running order, imploring you to play these tracks in this order live. Hell, if the album were such a defined success, how come almost no act plays their latest opus straight through at a gig? BECAUSE ALMOST NO ONE CARES!

People don’t know the music. They want to hear some old stuff too. Just like you do when you make an iTunes playlist. You mix it up. Why shouldn’t the artist mix it up?

As for Record Store Day… How laughable is that. If you’re salivating over this, you’re living in 1990, and hoping we go back to 1970. Record stores are dead. As dead as your Apple II. Some will survive, as dealers in antiquities and tchotchkes, but essentially everyone will buy online.

Point being, how can you lambaste Doug Morris for missing the digital revolution when you too are stuck in the past?

People only want to hear good music. On demand. This has decimated radio. But the album went first. We’re just feeling the full effect now. And it’s only going to get worse.

Newspapers saw a crisis coming. But they figured it was always in the future. That crisis is now. Newspapers will probably not survive. I get three a day. But I know the paradigm is history. I lament the loss, but look forward to the future, wherein more people report upon more stories in a constant 24 hour news cycle.

You too should look to the future. Not one in which you deliver product to get paid by a middleman, but one in which you and your handlers are all in it together, and you build an audience fan by fan, which lasts. Toyotas were a joke in 1970. Now GM is a joke. Toyota built its brand based on reliability, word of which was spread slowly from mouth to mouth. Toyota took decades to surpass GM as the largest automobile company in the world, but GM will never regain the crown.

So don’t tell me about ancient paradigms. Please look to the future. It’s coming. It’s about great. Fans want more music by the acts they adore. Release all the live stuff, all the alternative versions. They don’t taint the original, they allow fans to burrow deeper, the revealing of all your warts burnishes your image!

We live in an information society. That’s what your fans want, information. They don’t want a CD dropped every few years with canned hype, they want continuous info. Don’t get locked into the album syndrome. You’re missing the future.”

– From The Lefsetz Letter